Carmen Duncan wants her nonprofit to have a national presence.
That’s the long-term goal of Mission Accomplished Transition Services, which provides career mentorship in the areas of fashion, construction, interior design and decorating, and mural painting to young professionals and entrepreneurs ages 13-35, including those in the foster care, homeless or justice systems.
While the nonprofit started as volunteer-run, it now has four paid team members with plans to double that number. Duncan — who goes by “Coach Carmen” — says the nonprofit has worked with more than 3,000 clients over the past 10 years. There are roughly 25-30 industry advisers involved each year.
What led you to starting Mission Accomplished? One of the reasons that I wanted to start the org was because I was in the independent living program through Equinox, and we used to participate in independent living classes in order to help us with our transition out of the housing that they were providing us. And then I had the opportunity to work at a leadership development program while I was in college, and I was able to see the difference between the programming that was provided for us at Equinox and the leadership development programming that was provided for people who came from more affluent backgrounds. There was a different understanding that they were helping these young people prepare to make a huge difference in the world and take ownership of some very influential, powerful jobs — where with the independent living program through Equinox, it was like they were just preparing us to be able to manage basic needs. I get that, but help us think bigger for ourselves.
What were some of the obstacles you experienced transitioning into adulthood? Individuals who are in the systems are disproportionately Black and brown people. As young people, we’re very impressionable. We don’t see people in leadership who look like us, which is some of the reason that I was questioning if I can actually start a company. These companies that I was gaining resources from, it was very far and few between that there was a case manager that looked like me, an executive who looks like me. The individuals who typically looked like me were the direct care professionals. I very much respect those positions, but I just didn’t know how to go above and beyond that.
Where does the focus on construction and creative industries come from? With fashion, mural painting, interior design, they’re all art. It’s all expressing your emotions and your connection to the world through some sort of design.
In construction, you find that there are not a lot of Black and brown people or women who are in the construction industry. The trades are not promoted as careers to be proud of. We need people who want to be in the trades, and to be proud that they are helping to build their cities and their communities and their neighborhoods. I thoroughly believe that if more individuals from the urban community have a trade, that more people would be willing to purchase abandoned properties, residential and commercial properties, and renovate them themselves — and “gentrify” their own communities, to take our communities back.
What’s your long-term vision for the nonprofit? My ultimate goal is for us to be national and operate in small cities — like Albany, Schenectady, Troy — where you have talented people who are looking to make it in fashion, construction, interior design and decorating, and mural painting. And they don’t want to leave their small city; they want to do work in bigger cities, but they don’t really care to move to bigger cities to make it happen for themselves. I want us to be a national organization that works in collaboration with other community-based organizations in order to provide career education for up-and-coming creative professionals.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Mission Accomplished Transition Services
Title: Chief coach and founder
Company: Mission Accomplished Transition Services Inc.
Duncan is also on the board of the Advance Albany County Alliance, the county’s economic development organization.
Where she grew up: Poughkeepsie
Where she lives: Albany
Education: Associate degree, Maria College; bachelor’s degree, Russell Sage College; master of social work degree, University at Albany
This story had been updated to include the full range of people that Mission Accomplished serves.
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